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UVA develop a noninvasive surgical method for removing damaged brain circuits

Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have found a noninvasive method for removing defective brain circuits, which could allow doctors to cure chronic neurological illnesses without resorting to traditional brain surgery.

A new brain surgery option discovered at UVA can eliminate troublesome neurons (brain cells) without inflicting collateral damage.

The UVA team, together with Stanford University colleagues, believes that if properly translated to the operating room, the strategy could transform the treatment of some of the most difficult and complex neurological conditions, such as epilepsy and movement disorders. The method uses low-intensity focused ultrasound waves mixed with microbubbles to breach the brain’s natural defenses and deliver a poison to a specific location. This poison kills the offending brain cells while leaving other healthy cells unharmed and the brain’s architecture intact.

This novel surgical strategy has the potential to supplant existing neurosurgical procedures used for the treatment of neurological disorders that don’t respond to medication. This unique approach eliminates the diseased brain cells, spares adjacent healthy cells and achieves these outcomes without even having to cut into the scalp.”

Kevin S. Lee, PhD, Researcher, UVA’s Departments of Neuroscience and Neurosurgery and Center for Brain Immunology and Glia (BIG)

The power of PING

PING is the name of the new method, and it has already shown promising results in laboratory experiments. One of PING’s promising uses, for example, might be surgical treatment of epilepsies that do not respond to therapy. Anti-seizure medicines do not work for about a third of epilepsy patients, although surgery can help them lessen or eliminate their episodes. PING has been found to diminish or eliminate seizures in two epilepsy research models by Lee and his team, as well as Stanford partners. The findings suggest that epilepsy could be treated in a targeted, noninvasive manner without the need for standard brain surgery.

Another important potential benefit of PING is that it may motivate the surgical treatment of eligible epilepsy patients who are hesitant to undertake invasive or ablative surgery.

Lee and his collaborators discuss the potential of PING to focally destroy neurons in a brain region while sparing non-target cells in the same location in a recent scientific publication published in the Journal of Neurosurgery. Surgical approaches currently available, on the other hand, cause all cells in a treated brain region to die.

The approach’s amazing precision is a crucial benefit. PING uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to allow scientists to peek inside the skull and precisely guide sound waves to open the body’s natural blood-brain barrier where they are needed. This barrier is intended to keep toxic cells and chemicals out of the brain, but it also stops potentially beneficial medicines from reaching the brain.

The latest article from the UVA group finds that PING enables for the delivery of a highly focused neurotoxic that neatly eliminates troublesome neurons without causing collateral damage.

Another benefit of this approach’s precision is that it can be utilized on irregularly shaped targets in locations where normal brain surgery would be exceedingly difficult or impossible to reach. “The noninvasive nature and specificity of the treatment could positively affect both physician referrals for and patient trust in surgery for medically intractable neurological illnesses if this strategy translates to the clinic,” the researchers write in their new report.

“Our hope is that the PING strategy will become a key element in the next generation of very precise, noninvasive, neurosurgical approaches to treat major neurological disorders,” stated “ Lee, who is part of the UVA Brain Institute.


University of Virginia Health System